How many times have you heard people say that you need to say positive. You could have just had the worst crash of your life and your bike is mangled in heap of carbon fibers and shiny bits of aluminum and eventually someone will come up and say “stay positive.” And it isn’t even that you’re upset about the copious amounts of skin you left on the tarmac as you slid off the road and into the gutter, it is that your bike doesn’t have the same healing properties that you do. But what happens when we teach our brains to stay positive in stressful, challenging situations? I have often seen athletes recover faster from races where they won or achieved their goals versus events where they fell short. Maybe there is a scientifically tangible benefit to being happy and looking on the brighter side of life…
Recent research has found that positivity in the now floods the brain with dopamine that improves concentration, “turns on” the learning centers of the brain, and improves mental functioning. Do you think that improved concentration and mental functioning could be an asset in athletic competition? No me either…. (if you are one of my athletes, that was satirical…)
How we react to stressful situations and approach challenging events definitely has a role in the results of those events. Now I am not saying that staying positive will get you good results in and of itself, but a lot of highly successful athletes have a different strategy in dealing with stressful situations. The lens in which you view reality can not only significantly change your outlook, but also your results. I have often seen athletes recover faster from races where they won or achieved their goals versus events where they fell short. If we apply that sense of happiness and positivity to training than theoretically we could see a faster rate of improvement.
If you stay focused on the workload of your training, the suffering, how much it sucks having to ride in the rain (or on the trainer for those witches out there that melt) instead of just enjoying the privilege of riding your bike fast, gaining fitness and health, and the sense of accomplishment training can provide you will be limiting your long-term success in sport. Positivity engenders success in all aspects of life.
Most of us connect happiness to success. Achieving goals provides happiness which creates the motivation for our training. But what happens when we achieve our goals? We make a new, more challenging goal. We push happiness down the road. Connecting our happiness to “doing” doesn’t take away the motivation of goals, it can actually helps us achieve those goals. Staying positive in the present makes our brains work more successfully benefiting us in sport as well as in life.
How can we work on this? Psychologist have found a few techniques that can provide this shift in the brain. One is meditation. I am not going to go into the meditation techniques, there are plenty of those sources online, but the benefits of meditation have been known for some time. If it works for Samurai warriors and US Military special forces, it can work for endurance athletes. The second technique is just writing down three things you are grateful for each day, consecutively for 21 days. 21 days is long enough to make this type of thinking a habit. Behavior matters, and your brain can learn to fire different patterns to achieve success.